Saturday, February 15, 2014

Sherri S. Tepper, Grass (1989) SFMW 48

The complex ecology and well-conceptualised social arrangements of Sheri S. Tepper's Grass (1989) invite comparison to Frank Herbert's Dune (1965), with Savannah replacing silica.

However, whilst the hostile habitat of Herbert's work provides a secondary focus to the politico-economic machinations at its heart, Tepper's novel has more of a symbiotic feel to it. The religious totalitarianism of Sanctity and the social order of Bons and Commons may ostensibly serve to provide a hierarchical infrastructure upon Grass and in the celestial interrelations it exists within, but as the novel unfolds it becomes clear that it is the planet's complex ecology that is its primary interest, and the reason for its titular association.

The issue with any world-building novel is once you've started building, a certain sleight-of-hand is required in order to divert the reader from speculating as to what else may lie beyond the authorial gaze. Luckily, the peepers, Hippae, foxen and absent (corporeally, at least) Arbai are diverting enough for us not to be overly troubled by the fact that the planetary ecology we are introduced to is somewhat limited.

The sinister Hippae perplex:
But the Hippae are herbivores," Tony protested still, thinking of his father. "Behemoths. Why would they – " "Who knows what the Hippae do, or are?" offered Brother Mainoa. "They stay far from us, except to watch us. And when they watch us – " "We see contempt," breathed Marjorie so quietly that Tony was not sure he had heard her correctly. "We see malice." "Malice," agreed Brother Mainoa. "Oh, at the very least, malice. (loc. 3378-82)
The esoteric foxen fascinate:
The foxen let it happen. They allowed themselves a comfortable retirement. They let happen what would. Then, when it all went wrong, they chose to discuss it philosophically. When men came here, they learned new ideas of guilt and redemption and talked about that. They engaged in great theological arguments. They sent Brother Mainoa to find out if they could be forgiven. They talked of original sin, collective guilt. They're still doing it. They haven't learned that being penitent sometimes does no good at all. (loc. 6405-8)
Overall, like Father James, the reader is content enough to relax into this substantial and rewarding SF Masterwork and allow the planet at the centre of the tale to envelop them:
Now the Brother reclined against the breast of a foxen, like a child in a shadowy chair, while Father James tried to convince himself yet again that the foxen were real – not dreams, not amorphous visions, not abstractions or delusions. Conviction was difficult when he couldn't really see them. He caught a glimpse of paw, or hand, a glimpse of eye, a shadowed fragment of leg or back. Trying to see the being entire was giving him eye strain and a headache. He turned aside, resolving not to bother. Soon everything would resolve itself, one way or another. (loc. 6975-79)

No comments: